Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Children's Market and My Learning

This week my kids are participating in a children’s market and they are so excited.  This children’s market idea was initiated by Meaghan Jackson through the Burlington-Hamilton Unschoolers and has grown to include the entire local homeschooling community.  Children have created market booths selling services, products, crafts, and items with the intent of selling them to other children and attendees.  In unschooling style, parents are encouraged to step back so that their kids can take the initiative to plan, create, calculate, and negotiate so this experience can feel real and rewarding.
My daughter loves make-up, hair, colour, and design so when I asked her what kind of shop she wanted to have at the children’s market she didn’t hesistate – a beauty salon.  She decided she would paint nails, do make-up, and she says that she is also going to do hairstyles but she hasn’t really thought that one through yet so I am not sure if that aspect will materialize. 
This week she asked me to take her to the store so that she could buy a new nail polish for her salon “A glitter one because girls love glitter!” and today she wants me to take her to the store to buy white roses for her salon. I guess she has a vision of what she wants her salon experience to be like?  She said “Girls love beautiful flowers!”

As she plans aloud, I can’t help but notice that several girl stereotypes are being played out in my daughter’s salon.  So I had to ask “Are you only serving girls at your salon?”  She said yes.  I felt really uncomfortable.  I wanted her to be open to gender fluid kids or boys who wanted their nails done… So I asked what about boys that want to get their nails done?  “They are not allowed.” Oh no…I felt uncomfortable with that. So I asked how those boys would feel if she told them they are not allowed to get their nails done at her salon.  She thought about it and said “Lonely.” 

I let her response sit with me and soon I realized her answer revealed a bit of her.  She has a best friend who is a boy and most of her play experiences have been heavy on the boy influence.  As unschoolers, we have had to work really hard to find her some friends who are girls. What if her choice of market booth is not just an expression of her talents, but also an expression of her needs?  Perhaps a need for friendship and shared values? What if she is creating a market booth that attracts the kind of people she wishes to interact with more often?

I was humbled by that thought.  I realized I was so tempted to pressure her into agreeing to serve all customers equally but if I had done that, I would I have changed the experience for her. I would have made her booth about my needs for equality and acceptance, robbing her of the chance to try to meet her needs. And more importantly, I would have robbed her of the opportunity for her to learn from her market beauty salon experience.

This children’s market was supposed to be a chance for kids to learn but here I am learning the value of stepping back and letting a child lead the process.  I’m not sure how my daughter will respond to a gender fluid kid tomorrow or a boy visiting her salon but I now realize the experience she is creating is for her own learning.  I’m just lucky enough to be along for the ride.  Once again, I am feeling schooled by unschooling.  J

Friday, 15 September 2017

Triggered Empathetic Responses

Last night was a beautiful summer evening, so my family and I stayed out enjoying it well after dark.  I had the baby and she wanted to look at the blinking lights in the shop windows.  Those bright blinking lights are so appealing to babies.  There were some loud people around, one man was especially loud but she ignored it all.  I took her lead and let her little pointed finger determine where we would go next and what we would talk about.  At one point, she looked up at the night sky and as she looked up, I supported her soft little head so that she could look ALLLL the way up for as long as she wanted.  At one point she realized I was supporting her head and I said “I’ve got you!” and gave her a gentle kiss.  The whole feeling must have felt quite lovely because after the first gentle kiss, she touched my hand and leaned in for another gentle kiss.  We did as many gentle kisses as she wanted and when she was done being kissed she just laid there, with my hand supporting her head, looking at the night sky.  In that moment, instead of following her gaze again, I looked up and realized that the tough, scruffy looking guy having a smoke and a beer had been watching us the whole time.  He smiled at me and when our eyes connected I saw that by witnessing this interaction between my daughter and I, he had softened.  He seemed to be more gentle also. We didn't say anything, we just connected with our eyes and enjoyed the shared peaceful moment. I thought perhaps that by witnessing our tenderness, we had triggered his empathetic response and he was now experiencing this soft, lovely evening, just as we were.  He was no longer fronting or swaggering, he was there with us, peaceful and gentle.

The empathetic response is really so amazing.  It has an actual name " Emotional Contagion" but I'm not sure how many people recongnize that name.  This response happens regularly but we’re often unconscious to it.

I unschool my kids right now but this was the first full back to school week for local kids and I was noticing the range of responses.  For some kids, the return to school this week was still exciting.  For others it was already becoming a familiar routine.  And for some, they had strong reactions, especially on Sunday night and Monday morning.  Having supply taught and worked in Ontario public schools as a teacher, I know that school and classroom environments vary widely.  Some are lovely and inclusive and non-judging while others have power dynamics and subtle undertones. Think for a moment how your child’s learning environment triggers their emotional contagion.  (If your child is sensitive, you’ll probably be more aware of their empathetic response.)  Loving and kind gestures within your child’s earshot and eyesight will likely trigger them to also feel loved and cared for.  They’ll be willing to take risks and approach life with a sense of curiosity.  If your child is in an environment where they witness harshness and power-over dynamics, even if it is not done *to them*, they may respond as though it was. A power-over environment can encourage a child to experiment with their own power-over behavior (aka bully culture).  Or they may react with tears Sunday night or Monday morning or “clingy” or eager to please behavior when you are together.  They may appear agitated and aggressive as their fight response runs its course through their body.  They may not even be able to articulate it because as adults, we are often unconscious of it ourselves.  In fact, as children, we were often taught to dismiss our own unidentified, uneasy feelings by our well-meaning care-givers, though the most sensitive of us find that an impossible task.  But as parents caring for our children in conscious ways, we can choose something different.

If your child is loving school, I am celebrating their joy with you.  There is nothing better than seeing your child feeling confident and content. If your child is signaling distress, I encourage you to be their support and advocate.  Alternatives exist.  Your responses have a big influence on how they value themselves and interpret the world.  Their empathetic response is triggered all the time and helping them to develop an awareness of it will honor their experience and give them a stronger voice and advocate.